Miloš van Leeuwen, graduated in Human Geography in 1997
I started out doing Computing Science on the basis of my own hobbies, but ultimately it wasn't right for me. I took a year off to perform military service and during that time a dean at the UvA advised me to do my first-year diploma in Social Geography and wait to make a definitive choice until after that. But the first year of the programme was so fascinating that I stayed, initially specialising in Political Geography but eventually designing a free curriculum. During a Methods and Techniques module I found out that physical geographers were developing their own brand of computing science with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and I decided to make that my focus.
Through one of the tutors of that module I was able to apply for a work placement at KPN, or what was PTT Telecom at the time. I worked in their marketing department doing research into the spatial evolution of mobile phone use, looking if it was possible to model from where people would want to call. One of KPN's suppliers implemented parts of my model and subsequently hired me as a computer programmer. Though I started out in software, I found I really enjoyed talking to customers about how they wanted to use GIS and what the value was for them.
Eventually I ended up becoming an account manager, which I still am today, where I map out the value of spatial information, knowledge and insight for people and organisations. As a student and as a recent graduate it never occurred to me to work in sales. But as with Computing Science and Social Geography, things worked out differently in practice from what I'd expected. In my job I get to talk to a huge number of people about what they do, what they value, how they relate to their environment and how that's important to them. Essentially, I'm still doing geographical field work, so in that sense my degree in Social Geography has contributed significantly to my career. It's possible I could have done this job with a different background too, but the path I chose was certainly a lot more fun!
Looking back on my own experiences both as a student and on entering the workforce, my advice to everyone is to give yourself the gift of variation, surprise and passion, both during your studies and after. Choose an elective that sparks your curiosity, get active in study and student associations, and realise that though the courses you're taking may be outdated in a few years' time, the value of geography won't be. If you put your heart into it, a whole world will open up for you.